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When we think about addiction, we often picture the same images we see on TV and movies: young twenty- and thirty-somethings who fall into the grasp of street drugs. Although early-onset addiction (occurring in one’s 20s or 30s) is especially common, individuals in their 40s and 50s are also susceptible to late-onset addiction. Plus, many early-onset addicts continue on to become middle-aged and elderly addicts. In this blog, we’ll take a look at what addiction really means for the older population and their loved ones.
Addictions Common among Older Individuals
While the addictive nature of street drugs like heroin and meth are not limited to a single age group, addiction in individuals over 40 often takes a quieter form – alcoholism and prescription drug abuse.
Naturally, aging and elderly individuals often find themselves dealing with health issues that create chronic pain, for which they may undergo major surgeries. As a result, many patients are prescribed heavy-duty painkillers and other prescriptions. In patients simultaneously dealing with issues like dementia, depression, isolation, etc., there is an increased risk of developing an addiction to such medications. Of course, as these medications are prescribed by a doctor, they can be very difficult to spot and easy for the addict to lie about.
Alcoholism is another common addiction that is easy for older individuals to fall into. Because alcohol is a legal substance, it’s common for addicts and their loved ones to fail to recognize a problem. Unfortunately, many family members, friends, and younger generations also carry sentiments such as “they’re old, they can do it if it makes them happy.” This sort of age-related denial ignores the damage that addiction can do to a person and his or her family…at any age.
What Aging + Addiction Looks Like
As with any other health issue, there are a few key symptoms and behaviors that can serve as giveaways that an older person is suffering from addiction:
- Increased anxiety/depression
- Withdrawal from social situations
- Multiple prescriptions for the same medication(s)
- Constant doctor appointments with multiple physicians (“doctor-hopping”)
- Slurring of words/decreased dexterity
- Noticeable increase of alcohol intake/day drinking
- Spending more free time in bars
- Unusual changes in personality/behavior (anger, sensitivity, keeping secrets, etc.)
How to Know If You or a Loved One Is Suffering
If you’ve noticed any of the previously mentioned symptoms or behaviors, it may be time to consider whether you – or someone you love – needs help. Have drugs—prescription or otherwise—become a major part of life? Do you or your loved one start drinking early in the day to “even things out?” Is the use of such substances getting in the way of your or your loved one’s relationships, hobbies and/or ability to keep up with responsibilities like work or finances? If the answers to these questions lean toward “Yes,” it may be time to consider talking to a professional about getting help.
It’s Never Too Late to Seek Help
If you (or a loved one of any age) are struggling with an addiction, you may think that it’s too late to change, or that it’s acceptable to self-medicate in one’s golden years. The truth is very much to the contrary: it’s never too late to break free from addiction and get back to living one’s best life. Every person—no matter how old—deserves to be in good health and to have happy, functional relationships.
Don’t give up; contact a professional rehabilitation program to help you get your life back.